Tag Archives: Huffington Post

Gallup

A Wake-Up Call for B2B Brands

Gallup has just released the Guide to Customer Centricity: Analytics and Advice for B2B Leaders. The study reports that 71% of B2B clients are ready and willing to take their business elsewhere – not even one-third are fully engaged in their relationships with suppliers.

If you are operating in the B2B world – and you likely are, as either a supplier or client – do you find this statistic surprising?

This finding should be a wake-up call for B2B brands to figure out what is going on with their clients.

Do you know anyone in the business world who will say they are opposed to client-centricity? Putting clients at the center of a business remains an aspiration for many companies. Why is a strategy of such potential value so difficult to execute? What must happen to create mutually beneficial relationships between businesses and clients?

Companies have to get out of their own way and provide the value that clients expect. B2B or B2C, people handing over their money to you because they believe you are meeting their needs demand personalized engagement. They will choose the right moment to go elsewhere if you fail to deliver. Here are some areas that can make a difference:

  • Sales force compensation systems rewarding new client deals, with little incentive past contract signing and getting the client set up, can be updated to reward surfacing and delivering on continuing needs.
  • A linear approach to winning, welcoming and engaging clients can be reinvented to treat clients like people and break old habits of putting them through a gauntlet of internal systems and silos.
  • An outside/in understanding of client needs and wants can replace product pushing. Even traditional client needs assessments may not capture evolving needs – these methods tend to play back answers biased by the products driving today’s P&L.

There is no magic to this. Client-centricity requires change and a new mindset. It’s hard work. Where can you begin? Follow these four action steps to identify the priorities for your business:

  • Go out and talk to clients. The value of conversations where clients do most of the talking and you do most of the listening can be far higher than quantitative research.
  • Segment your client base. This is not just about bucketing clients by size, sector, potential value to you or historical purchase relationship. It’s about the clients’ journeys, including their attitudes and behavior, how they go about achieving their vision of success, and where you fit in.
  • Reimagine your clients’ experience of doing business with you. How does your brand enhance the clients’ journey — it’s not about making them fit in to your mechanisms for running your business. It’s about reflecting their preferences back to them in every interaction they have with you.
  • Figure out what this means for your employee experience and expectations. Everything from sales incentives, to marketing communications, to servicing policies to channel capabilities – should contribute to the experience your brand will create so your clients see you as enabling their vision for their business. Hire people who are not only business-focused but people-focused.

The very term “B2B” fails to acknowledge the reality that every brand, irrespective of whether its audience includes individuals or enterprises, must prove itself to the people who will be its users, buyers or payers. Behind every B2B relationship are P2Ps – People-to-People.

This post also appears in Amy’s regular column on Huffington Post.

What Is Your 2016 Playbook for Growth?

CEOs entering 2016 convinced they can succeed by doubling down on what worked in the past may be reading from the wrong playbook.

According to a recently released Forrester/Odgers Berndtson study, “The State of Digital Business 2015,” most companies remain unprepared for digital transformation” — an absolute must for growth. Yet executives representing the diverse sectors examined in the study expect the majority of their sales to be digital by 2020. How will they get there?

If your transformation plan to capture at least a fair share of an expanding digital sales pie is not well underway, and you feel behind the eight ball, that may be for good reason – digital transformation leading to adopting a meaningful new business model or new technology can take years. And it demands operating along a different set of practices that used to work.

Growth is within reach of any CEO…

  • Moving at least as fast as the pace of technological change,
  • Delivering on clients’ growing expectations for real outcomes, and
  • Adapting to the shifts of economic and workplace controls to the millennial generation.

The CEO must be the Chief Growth Officer. Hiring a chief digital officer or chief innovation officer or someone else carrying a fashionable CXO title assigns daily responsibility for actions to close the digital gap. This can be a good move. The CEO cannot be everyplace at all times, and, besides, micromanagement from the top of the C-suite is deadly. When it works, this added role introduces skills, fosters enterprise-wide external partnerships, signals commitment inside and outside the organization and creates the digital blueprint for buy-in by colleagues. But the CEO alone has and must use his or her authority to coordinate growth levers and make the tough calls.

The CEO is also the Chief Culture Officer. Culture is not the job of HR or any other designee. Culture is the sum of the hundreds of choices everyone makes every day. People respond to the behaviors of their leaders. What do growth behaviors look like? Think about orchids in a greenhouse. Like orchids, new and different ideas are fragile and require special care. They may need protection from the outdoors – the conditions through which a mature business can operate, but that will kill a still-emerging concept. The CEO must advance a culture of a greenhouse, using governance to support both the work wherever growth businesses are being incubated, and a smooth transfer to the mainstream at the right time.

A lot has changed, but strategy is still the starting point for execution that gets results. Good strategy means having a clear view of where you are, an intended destination and a map of the terrain with a logical path to get there. Good strategy allows for good prioritization of short- and long-term moves, including the digital agenda. Strategy is still what gives all members of an organization a common view of goals. Strategy must evolve from what it has become in too many companies — a financial extrapolation supported by a sales-y PowerPoint presentation and ungrounded assumptions.

You must govern to engage and create accountability. Bring the whole C-suite into the act – no bystanders or anonymous choristers allowed. It’s a great idea to ask your CMO or CIO (or both) to lead the digital acceleration effort, but what about the rest of the C-suite? Put a governance process in place that fosters a constructive dialog with all of the CEO’s direct reports, including the P&L leaders and functional heads. Governance must reinforce that every member of this team has “skin in the game” to achieve growth results. No one is exempt from being part of the solution.

You have to update the risk/reward equation. Face it – the traditional American corporation was built to be predictable – to control risk. But nowadays, avoiding deviation from the status quo may be the riskiest path of all. I’ll paraphrase how Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, described the issue at a recent talk: To the corporate leader, downside risk is determined by aggregating variables that are stress-tested through complex analyses in an attempt to account for unknowns. And the potential of digital is full of unknowns, so it can easily be discounted down to where it is assumed to just have incremental impact.

But here’s a whole different view: To a venture capitalist, the maximum downside is the loss of 100% of his or her investment. That investment is meted out in small chunks as milestones are passed, so exposure is clear, measurable and contained. And the upside is viewed as exponential (though low-odds).

Food for thought: Reframing the risk/reward inputs and calculation can be a liberating and responsible course of action.

Digital transformation is a non-starter without the right talent. Seek evidence beyond the skills that seem urgent now but come with an expiration date — what matters is hybrid thinking, continuous learning and a record of delivering meaningful results. Is “fit” simply a euphemism for “people like me”? Go after your complements, and even some people who don’t fit your mold, but for whom you are committed to make room. The continued homogeneity of the faces on the “Team” section of most corporate and start-up websites in this day and age reinforces the untapped opportunity to invite others in and reap the rewards.

You must measure client outcomes. What gets measured gets done. And the wrong metrics stifle innovation. Applying yesterday’s metrics with blunt force is a death sentence for new ideas. The CEO must take a stand on how to gauge digital progress. Implement metrics that: 1. Align to the strategy. 2. Reveal how well you are delivering outcomes to the client (i.e., fulfilling the benefits that brought them to you in the first place). 3. Focus on how well the team is delivering results to clients. 4. Relate to drivers of the P&L and overall franchise health now and in three to five years.

You need to generate speed and momentum through constant progress in small chunks. It beats all-at-once precision that misses the market. Iterate, iterate, iterate, as fast as you can. Make live prototypes and show them to clients. Test and learn. Be flexible to new data and insight. The word “failure” does not appear in this playbook. “Failure” is something you bring upon your team when you don’t take the learning from a study, a test, a prototype, a client conversation and have it fuel the next improvement, however large or small, to allow you to move closer to success. “Failure” is what happens when the water cooler talk echoes with, “That doesn’t work, so we killed it.” A culture of “failure” has gum in its gears.

You must pursue three stages to finding your digital leverage: Step one: Identify the sources of revenue from new clients or relationship expansion (see above point on speed) and the drivers to win this business. Step two: Define the profit model. Step three: Go for scale. I worked under a CEO who set up this one-sentence approach during our early days of digital transformation: “Find the unit profit model and then see if you can scale it.”

You need to collaborate. Some people are wired to collaborate. Others are expert at advancing their own goals through silos. Evidence of growth effectiveness: an environment where colleagues build on each other’s ideas with the goal of shared success. Make collaboration a hiring competency that is taken seriously. Make it an expectation and demonstrate through your own behavior what that means.

Finally, you must get out there and get your hands dirty. We all learn by doing. Fast and valuable knowledge exchange takes place when corporates and start-ups interact. Corporates will find the speed, iteration and absence of failure as a concept inspiring. Start-ups are always looking for mentors and advisers with financial, marketing and operating experience. This quid pro quo can be the basis for a mutually beneficial and mind-expanding relationship. Make the meeting ground any space that is not a corporate conference room.

This post is also published in Amy’s regular column on Huffington Post.

Strategy: Now Is Not a Good Time…

  • The founder and CEO of an early-stage company that has just closed a solid seed round tells me that what has benefited his business most in the past year, and allowed him to pivot toward a promising future, can be expressed in one word: focus.
  • The CEO of a late-stage startup who spent more than 100 days closing a recent round with an important new investor tells me how he was thoroughly “beaten up” during due diligence because of what was perceived to be a lack of clarity in the company’s market positioning. This added weeks to the process, diverting resources away from sales and daily operations.
  • The CEO of a B2B content start-up tells me that he and his team are doing too many things and essentially careening from one new idea to the next, acknowledges the need to prioritize but indicates he has to get through his short-term list first.

Each of these conversations is recent and real – they all occurred in the past two weeks. And while they happen to be about young, relatively small companies, each of these situations scales to big, mature companies, as well. If the issue isn’t about closing a round of funding, it’s about getting funding in the annual budget. If it’s not about investor feedback, it’s about reacting to the latest round of input from the CFO or the board. And who among us hasn’t bemoaned the quarter-to-quarter focus of publicly held companies of every size and sector?

Each of these stories points to the need every business has for strategy. And even if you think you don’t have one, or can coast along without one, guess again – you just have strategy by default.

What is strategy? Better yet, what isn’t it?

Strategy is NOT:

  • The domain of high-priced (or any price) consultants who create fancy documents – although some outside perspective or facilitation can be a big help
  • The catch-all for anything your team comes up with that survives the budget review process even though it cannot be precisely quantified (I have witnessed respected members of the finance function inside a Fortune 100 company be fully comfortable with this characterization)
  • The department in which geeky, analytic introverts perceived as unable to execute (hence they create more of those strategy documents) build their careers
  • Optional, something to be dealt with later, maybe when you have more time (tell me when, honestly, that will be?)
  • A list of strategic initiatives…or a set of PowerPoint slides full of cool visuals

So, then, what is strategy?

  • Strategy, quite frankly, is what leaders do to identify and allocate resources to help them get their businesses where they want them to go.
  • Strategy is mostly about execution.
  • Strategy is less about what you must do, than what you should not be doing.

Or, my favorite definition:

  • Strategy is about knowing (1) where are you? — (2) where do you want to be? — (3) how are you going to get there?

There are both direct and opportunity costs of deferring answers to these three questions, and ultimately taking the actions that ensure every employee and partner can buy into and play their roles in ways that reflect the answers.

Where to start:

  • Write down what you envision at your “point of arrival.” What is it going to look like and feel like? What will respected colleagues and members of the sector be saying about your company when you reach your destination? What will your products, customer or client experience and customer service be like? What will your brand represent?
  • Then write the story of where you are today, answering these same sorts of questions in the present.
  • Spend most of your effort breaking apart the answer to “how” into three to five headlines.
  • Now here is the toughest part: The temptation will be to build laundry lists of activities under each headline, or even just rearrange (and add to!) what you are already doing today. The successful outcome of this thought process is to surface things you would like to do (including things that are already underway) that you have to admit play at best a limited role in getting you where you want to be. And to cross them off the list and actually stop doing them.

What I am suggesting is not a one-and-done exercise. It’s not a solo activity. And while it may begin at an offsite or work session, it’s not a meeting. This is a process to reflect in your daily leadership, management and the culture of your company. This is how strategy becomes meaningful to creating sustainable and persistent growth.

This article also appears in Amy Radin’s column in Huffington Post and her LinkedIn blog.